Joseph David-Jones hopes ‘4400’ will resonate with anyone who feels overlooked

4400 star Joseph David-Jones spoke with Subjectify Media about playing social worker Jharrel in advance of the show’s Monday premiere on the CW. Read our interview below.

You may know Joseph David-Jones as Connor Hawke from the CW’s Legends of Tomorrow and Arrow or Clayton Carter from Nashville, and he appeared in the critically acclaimed Detroit from director Kathryn Bigelow. 2021 sees him back at the CW to co-headline 4400, the network’s newest sci-fi drama, premiering October 25.

Created by Ariana Jackson and Anna Fricke, 4400 is, as you must surely guess, a modern re-imagining of The 4400, the science fiction mystery show that aired from 2004-2007 before being cancelled on a famously frustrating cliffhanger due to the ongoing writers’ strike.

The premise of 4400 remains the same – in the present day, approximately four thousand, four hundred people who vanished without a trace from various points in history all reappear en masse having not aged and with no memory of what happened, creating chaos and a national security crisis. Moreover, a few of the returned 4400 are immediately revealed to have come back from… wherever they were… with unique supernatural gifts, like healing or telekinesis. Watch the trailer below:

The immediate major difference is that 4400’s taken people are all from marginalized groups, people who were overlooked or oppressed in their own times. The showrunners aim to use the original premise to explore issues of, among other things, race, class and sexuality. Most of the main cast is Black, and there is an obvious civil rights factor at play as various characters discover what is permitted or normalized for other characters in their respective time periods, but 4400 also includes a range of people we’re yet to discover the detailed circumstances of, like a disabled white teenage girl from the 1970s, and a Black transgender man from the 1920s, plus many of as yet unnamed 4400 members who seem to come from all sorts of diverse backgrounds.

Having seen only the pilot of 4400, it’s tricky to tell whether having any knowledge of the original series will clue in viewers about the reboot, in terms of the big question: who’s responsible for the vanishings, why did it happen, why do they now have powers, and all those sort of major plot points. It feels like a given that if you do something like this, you’re going to want to change enough to still surprise fans of the original, so I suspect that the twists in the new show are not going to match the twists of the original series, but confirming or denying anything about this is something that 4400’s EPs are keeping close to the chest.

At the CW’s recent press day for 4400, creator Ariana Jackson vaguely fielded this issue:

“Well, you know, this is sort of a full reboot. It’s sort of a reimagining of the premise of The 4400, a show I loved very, very much. But, you know, we have all new characters, sort of a whole new story around this similar premise that 4400 people who had gone missing throughout time appear suddenly in one time and one place […] We loved the premise of the original. And so we are sort of taking what we need to tell our story and veering off in different directions as well.”

Our immediate point of entry to the premise is via young lawyer and new mother Shanice (Brittany Adebumola) who is one of the more contemporary of the 4400 taken. As she tries to figure out what has happened and escape government custody in order to reunite with the family she disappeared from 15 years earlier, she’s supported by Jharrel Mateo (Joseph David-Jones) the empathetic social worker assigned to help – and draw information from – the 4400 time travelling refugees being held and investigated.

After screening the pilot, I spoke with star Joseph David-Jones in advance of Monday’s 4400 premiere. The cast are also apparently still in the dark about a lot of the big twists, but there was plenty to discuss in terms of Joseph’s approach to character, his hopes for 4400’s impact, and his relationship with the original series. And after the pilot airs, we’ll have some more tidbits to share from Joseph of a rather more spoilery nature.

In 4400, Jharrel is one of our present-day-based characters, a social worker recruited alongside various others from law enforcement and the military to help handle and interrogate the reappearance of these mysterious missing people from throughout time. What is the first thing that you did to research and approach the role of a social worker? What steps did you take to understand the importance of Jharrel’s position in the story?

Before I started shooting, I spent a good amount of time talking with social workers, just to understand the the weight of what they do and how much, I guess, that it weighs on them when they’re working with families, or working with people who are trying to gain asylum in America or citizenship, or working with families where they don’t know if they’re going to be able to keep their kids or not. They grow an attachment trying to help these people and sometimes things just don’t go their way. Sometimes they get swallowed up by the system and there’s nothing they can do and that takes a toll on people. It takes a toll on them as the workers, it takes a toll on the families, and I think that was the thing that I knew I wanted to bring to Jharrel, that sort of compassion and empathy, but also that weight of “if we don’t help these people, no one will.” I hope that shows through or comes through.

Jharrel is certainly, I feel, the most compassionate character at present, based on the pilot and the impression given of him having a different attitude towards what’s going on to those in the government department, so I think definitely there’s a strong approach there! What sort of person do you think is going to love this show? Who do you hope it resonates with?

I hope it resonates with everyone, but I feel like the people that it’s going to most resonate with are people who have in some way felt overlooked in their lives or in their interactions with other people just in their day-to-days, because that’s who we shine a light on in these stories. All of the people were overlooked or undervalued in their time periods and just didn’t really have a voice then, or a platform with which to tell their perspective on things. Coming to the future sort of gives them that, and along with that, they also both supernaturally and very naturally find their own power.

What can you tell me about what’s coming for the powers and that kind of thing? So far in the pilot we’ve only really seen two people use their potential powers and I’m just wondering how many among the main group can we expect to see something a bit more special from?

Oh, I can’t say who or exactly what the power’s going to be, but a lot more powers are coming and powers that are unexpected and and bigger. Bigger powers are coming. It’s going to be crazy, it’s funny because I didn’t even expect them to lean as far as they did into the powers but they are different and more unique than what happened in our predecessor series, so I think people are going to be excited about that.

Did you watch the original show The 4400 before making this? Maybe not in the past, but when you got the role? Was there kind of a crash course of the original show done at all, or was it all kept quite separate?

Oh, I watched the original show when it first aired!

Oh really? That’s really cool!

I was like a day one fan! My family and I all watched it when I was a kid, so it’s one of the very few shows that we all got together and watched as a family. But I love the show and when I told them that I had gotten it, it was kind of like a full circle moment. They were really proud. I was all about that show!

How did you get involved with this production? I ask especially because you’re the only one of the cast that was a series regular on the CW before this series. Was the role of Jharrel an in-house offer off the back of Arrow, or was it a more random audition that landed you back with the CW?

It’s a whole new casting director, casting agency and everything that handles this show, but when they go to the network or the studios with their picks, the studio has the right to approve or disapprove of anybody. So I don’t think my previous show with the CW was a leg up on anybody, but it was more of a point of recognition for the network. They saw the tape come through like, “Oh, okay, we know Jojo, he’s done great work for us before yeah, he’s going to be great on this show.

Besides your lovely self, which actor or actors in the show do you think are really going to blow people’s minds? I’m sure that you love all of them, but who do you really love the character arc of, or have enjoyed working with the most? I know it’s a big cast!

Oh wow. They’re going to see this interview and be like “Wow…”

“You didn’t say me, you didn’t say me….”

I would say the majority of my scenes are with Ireon Roach and she is a new actress – she’s been on stage for a while and is really really talented, but this is her first series regular job for a tv series, and she does an amazing job as Keisha, who is my partner on the show. We click the most because we’re always working together and butting heads. Sorry everybody in the cast who is seeing this – that is who I enjoy working with the most!

4400 is set in Detroit, but you shoot in Chicago. I’ve been to both cities myself and I actually did a tour of Detroit architecture and even visited the abandoned zoo on Belle Isle, so I was really interested to see how it all ended up looking like Detroit on screen. You know, it was a good match! How was the shooting experience on location in Chicago?

It’s funny, I thought the same thing, because I shot Detroit in Detroit and they found these old historic areas in Chicago that looked so much like Detroit, it’s crazy! It’s been amazing and we came right during summer, so it was the perfect time to have all the fun in Chicago. I’m terrified of the winter though.

Oh, are you gonna be shooting over the winter? That’s a lot, I’m sorry! Good luck!

I believe so, yes. I’m gonna bundle up and hopefully I make it through!

This interview has been condensed for clarity. More quotes from this interview with Joseph David-Jones will be released after the 4400 pilot airs.

Want to know more about 4400? The network’s official synopsis for the pilot “Past is Prologue” is as follows:

After four thousand four hundred people who were overlooked, undervalued or otherwise marginalized vanished without a trace off the face of the planet, they were all returned in an instant to Detroit having not aged a day and with no memory of what happened to them. As the government races to understand the phenomenon, analyze the potential threat and contain the story, an empathetic social worker (Joseph David-Jones) and hardened community corrections officer (Ireon Roach) are among the civil servants called upon to deal with the uncanny refugees.

The new partners clash in ideology and approach, but gradually find they have more in common than they thought as they become familiar with those under their care, including Shanice (Brittany Adebumola), a lawyer and resilient young mother from the early aughts, whose unexpected reunion with her estranged husband Logan (Cory Jeacoma) and suddenly teenaged daughter Mariah is immediately rocky; Andre (TL Thompson), a WWI Army surgeon fresh from the Harlem Renaissance; Claudette (Jaye Ladymore), an influential hidden figure from the Mississippi civil rights movement; Isaiah “Rev” Johnston (Derrick A. King), a black sheep reverend-scion born to a notable televangelist family in 1990s Chicago; LaDonna (Khailah Johnson), a seemingly shallow but misunderstood D-list reality TV star from Miami, circa 2015; and two wildly different unaccompanied teens, Mildred (Autumn Best), a vibrant girl, whose bell bottoms give away her 1970s upbringing, and Hayden (AMARR), an introspective, prescient boy, whose origin remains a mystery.

These unwilling time travelers, collectively the 4400, must grapple with their impossible new reality, the fact that they’ve been returned with a few…upgrades, and the increasing likelihood that they were brought back now for a reason they’re only beginning to understand. Janice Cooke directed the episode written by Ariana Jackson.

The CW’s ‘4400’ premieres this Monday, October 25 at 9/8c.